Skip to main content

Liberal catholics vs. conservative catholics

There's been a lot of talk about the pope since he visited the US. The pope will draw attention because he's the head of a large, worldwide organization. But Francis is probably drawing more attention than normal because he says some fairly progressive things, at least for a religious leader. This has all sparked some debate over what the catholic church should look like moving forward. This piece from Ross Douthat showed up in my twitter feed and I wanted to highlight some things I found interesting.

Which brings us to the issue that prompted my column: The debate, encouraged and I think guided in a pro-change direction by Pope Francis, over whether to admit the divorced-and-remarried, people in unions that the church has traditionally considered adulterous, back to communion while they’re still in a sexual relationship with their new spouse. I’ve written at length, as have others more qualified than myself, on why this allegedly-pastoral change would, in fact, represent a substantial alteration of doctrine on a very consequential issue — either the doctrine surrounding marriage, the doctrine surrounding sin, confession and the Eucharist, or by effect and implication both.
Some of the people supporting the change obviously disagree with that analysis and seem to believe that this shift would be more akin to, say, changing the requirements surrounding fasts in Lent — a strictly disciplinary or pastoral change, not a doctrinal one at all. (Though some, I tend to suspect, privately agree that it would be a bigger changer and that’s precisely why they want it — to prove that the church can shift substantially on a question of sexual ethics, and therefore that other changes are possible as well.)

To me this is the core of most, if not every, religious stance that I don't agree with. They just can't accept the fact that people, from a fairly early age, want to have sex. He goes on:

And it’s that change, working itself out across enough people and enough time, that I think would make it hard for the church to escape the fissiparous fate of Anglicans and Methodists and Presbyterians and other churches that have explicitly divided on these kind of sex-and-marriage questions, why is part of why I raised the possibility of schism: Not (God help us) as a prescription but as a prediction, based on the unhappy experience of our fellow Christians, of where churches where authority is compromised or absent on these kind of debates tend to ultimately end up.

So my dominant emotion isn’t anger right now: It’s a mix of dismay and determination, anxiety and hope, cycling back and forth depending on events.

Typical conservative, scared to concede his position of power. No, we can't have people getting out of relationships that they don't want to be in anymore because my belief that women shouldn't have sex with anyone but the one person they chose at a likely early age in life is the one with the most institutional power and the one that benefits me the most.

This is very similar to the way political conservatives think. It's all about the continuity of power structures and the fact that to them, any change in that structure is by definition a weakening of the institution. They don't reason from a belief in the morality of a stance on an issue. They reason from whether or not a belief in an issue is a change from a norm or not. I mean, he literally says that the appeal of catholicism is the fact that it's been around for so long and hasn't changed it's stance on some things.

I guess in a way it's admirable to stick to your guns in the way he does. But when you do that you are leaning pretty hard on the belief that what's written in a book, second hand and years after the death of their supposed god, is the word of god. I have no dog in the fight for catholicism's future (except for when they meddle in public policy). But if I did, I'd be siding with the catholics who put compassion and understanding before defense of tradition for the sake of tradition.